Why is it important for us to visit the place where our beers are made? Why does drinking from source always seem like a better and more valuable experience? Is it simply a matter of getting the beer at it’s freshest or is it more akin to pilgrimage to pay respect and understand the circumstances of the beer better?
As it happens, we do believe that drinking a particular beer at or near source often seems ‘better and more valuable’ and, yes, we suspect it is sometimes to do with freshness. But there are other factors at play, too.
In Southwold, Suffolk, early last month, we had some of the best Adnams’ beer we’ve ever tasted, within sight of the brewery itself (of which more on 29 November). It must make a difference, mustn’t it, to drink a beer where those who brew it convene for their post-work pints?
It did seem that the craft beer revolution had stopped being able to squeeze into its tight girl jeans and instead had pulled a nice comfy Blue Harbour rugby shirt over its growing paunch when Marks and Spencer started selling single-hopped beers…
We’ve just heard that Peter Austin, founder of Ringwood Brewery, died yesterday. He was 92 years old.
We were lucky enough to correspond with Mr Austin last year, albeit briefly. He was charming, patient and very kind, despite his frailty. On the phone, he made it very clear that he didn’t have the energy for a long conversation, before proceeding to answer the questions we’d sent him by post with military precision:
I was born in North London and went to the Highgate School, which I left in 1935 when my family moved back to where it had originated, the New Forest. I then spent a couple of years on the HMS Conway on the River Mersey – the idea was a career at sea. I eventually went to sea with P&O and then joined the Royal Navy during World War II. I was invalided out rather early in the war… My father was a director of Pontifex & Sons who were big in producing steel fittings for breweries, until stainless came along, when they were a bit slow off the mark. Going into brewing wasn’t my idea – it was through my father’s connections. He got me a pupillage with Roland Storey at the Friary Brewery in Guildford in Surrey… After my pupillage, I went to the Hull Brewery as third brewer.
After retiring in the late seventies, he got dragged back into the world of brewing because, as he was happy to admit, he needed the money.
His first triumph was building and getting established the Penrhos Brewery on behalf of Martin Griffiths, Terry ‘Python’ Jones and writer Richard Boston. He then launched his own brewery, Ringwood, in 1978, and thereafter came to be the ‘go to’ guy for advice on setting up similar operations.
When David Bruce was setting up his first Firkin brewpub in 1979, it was Austin who vetted his designs for a miniature basement brewkit. The two were both founder members of SIBA, which then stood for The Small Independent Brewers Association, and Austin was its first Chair.
He was particularly proud of his contributions to SIBA’s submission to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission which fed into the Beer Orders of 1989.
Throughout the eighties, as well as running Ringwood, Between 1978 and 1986, he installed 32 breweries in England, as well as many more in the far corners of the world, often working alongside another famous name in UK brewing, Brendan Dobbin.
We’ll raise a pint to him at the earliest opportunity.